While almost half of the population in Finland has received the first jab of coronavirus vaccination, while others patiently wait to get their turn, in Russia, despite several Russian-produced vaccinations being available, the residents don’t hurry to get vaccinated. In the new article by Euronews, several Russians living abroad tell about their experience of Sputnik tourism – they decided not to wait for their turn in Finland, but rather get the jabs in Russia, where there is plenty of opportunities to do that.
Margarita Zavadskaya was asked what could explain such stark differences between the Russian and Finnish populations:
Studies have shown that COVID vaccine hesitation in Russia is as high as 62%, said Margarita Zavadskaya, a postdoctoral researcher at the Finnish Centre for Russian and East European Studies – the Aleksanteri Institute – at the University of Helsinki.
There are different reasons for the hesitation she said. Some distrust anything from the government, while others trust the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, but not that it is necessarily transported, handled and given correctly. And then, there are also just people, who are traditional anti-vaxxers as we know them from elsewhere: people generally opposing vaccination.
“The main explanation is, however, an extremely low level of trust in political institutions and authorities,” said Zavadskaya.
With a heavy legacy from Soviet times and recent optimisation reforms, some local hospitals have been closed; and there is a lack of funding in the health sector with outdated equipment.
“Russian health care institutions are in an obsolete state, and COVID-19 has exacerbated existing problems,” explained Zavadskaya.
Many Russians are not flocking to get a COVID shot because they’re not concerned about the virus. Surveys show that 38% of Russians think that the whole virus is a hoax. The central administration in Moscow has generally been hesitant to impose nationwide restrictions in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Instead, President Vladimir Putin has for the most part delegated the COVID response to the regions, which is very unusual in today’s highly centralised Russia, Zavadskaya noted.
“This is Putin’s way of keeping himself out of the political blame game if things go wrong,” she deemed.
The full article is available online.
This spring our project seminars, where we talk about various issues, including electoral malpractice, cyber-security, and political consequences in Russia and beyond, returned with a presentation given on 31st of March by Margarita Zavadskaya. In her talk “COVID-19 skepticism in Russia and its potential political effects”, Margarita talked about the research she is conducting now with Boris Sokolov, the senior research fellow at LCSR HSE.
In this study, they explore how various socio-demographic attributes, values, attitudes, and personality traits of COVID-19 skeptics differ from those of the rest of the Russian population, finding several interesting contrasts in terms of values, trust, and political attitudes. The researchers use data collected during the first round of the international online panel survey “Values in Crisis” (in short ViC; fieldwork mid-June 2020, N = 1527). They operationalize COVID-skepticism as support for the idea that the Corona pandemic is a hoax and that all the lockdown measures are a hysterical overreaction, indicated by 38% of our respondents. Moreover, being a coronasceptic is a stronger predictor of political trust and political support than all the other pandemic-related variables available in the ViC questionnaire and most socio-demographic characteristics.
The comments to the research were provided by Anna Tarasenko, visiting researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki and docent at the Department of Political Science and International Affairs, Higher School of Economics Saint Petersburg.
If you missed the seminar, you can watch the recording of it below:
Today HSE SPb organises a workshop “Coronavirus pandemic: new challenges for socio-political relationships in Russia”. During the workshop, the experts will discuss the research results of the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on various aspects of social and political life in Russia. Margarita Zavadskaya gives two presentations with Boris Sokolov (HSE SPb). In the first presentation, they outline a socio-psychological portrait of a typical COVID skeptic. In the second one, the researchers describe the determinants of political support and institutional trust in Russia during the pandemic.
Margarita and Boris demonstrate that Russia and the post-Soviet space, in general, are leaders in covid-skepticism among ten countries included in the “Values in Сrisis” survey. One explanation of this outcome may be the communism past, but the causal mechanism is ambiguous and requires further research. The researchers compose a portrait of a typical COVID skeptic in Russia. The dissidents are individuals who believe in the mysterious nature of the COVID-19. Commonly, these are more regularly men than women with an average level of education living in a medium or small town. Covid-skepticism prevails among respondents who distrust institutions, government, and traditional media to a greater extent. This group is more pessimistic and expects the Russian economy to shrink dramatically because of the pandemic. Counter-intuitively, covid-dissidents are less conservative and more open to risk. Facing the virus personally undermines skepticism while experiencing financial problems due to the restrictive measures acts as stimuli to a more significant skepticism.
If you want to learn more about Zavadskaya’s and Sokolov’s research, you can read the new article “How did Russian society react to Covid-19?” on Riddle.
PONARS Eurasia published a policy memo “Linkages between Experiencing COVID-19 and Levels of Political Support in Russia”, written by Margarita Zavadkaya and Boris Sokolov (Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg).
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left noticeable traces in everyday life of Russian society. Eighty percent of Russians had to alter their lifestyles due to the virus, with half reporting that their incomes shrank, and this share keeps growing. Has the pandemic also affected how Russian citizens feel about their government? To explore how the pandemic has affected political support in Russia, we analyzed data from a representative online panel survey, “Values in Crisis,” carried out by the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research at the Higher School of Economics (LCSR, HSE).
We looked at four indicators of support: confidence in (1) the Russian government, (2) the health sector, and (3) the country’s institutions as a whole, as well as respondents’ opinions on (4) how well the government is handling the coronavirus crisis. We found that actual encounters with COVID-19 and the public healthcare system are negatively, although weakly, associated with all four indicators. We also found that the fear of getting sick moderately positively correlates with assessments of the government’s response to the crisis. Reported negative economic impacts do not seem to affect political trust and support. Strikingly, the most distrusting group of respondents are the so-called “COVID-19-dissidents,” who consistently scored low on all measures due to their refusal to take COVID-19 seriously.
This fascinating research can be read online.
Yesterday Riddle published an article “COVID-19 and Russians’ political sentiments” written by Margarita Zavadskaya and Boris Sokolov (Senior Research Fellow, Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, HSE). Based on the ‘Values in Crisis’ survey, they have compiled original data on how the coronavirus pandemic is changing Russian society and its political moods. The results show little sign of any ‘rally round the flag’ effect.
To sum up, Russians have not ‘rallied round the flag’ in response to the epidemic, as predicted by political science theories. On the other hand, the economic situation has not yet had a very noticeable impact on political sentiments. Here, the situation can change if the recession caused by the coronavirus and authorities’ response is protracted. The subjective perception of what is happening has a stronger impact (albeit small in absolute numbers) on the attitude towards the government than direct experience of the disease or its economic consequences. Interestingly, pandemic-related concerns are conducive to a favourable rather than negative attitude to the authorities; perhaps the government is perceived as a source of some stability and social guarantees.
The most interesting result is the close link between the perception of COVID-19 as a hoax and distrust in the government and state institutions. This may indicate that the authorities are suffering the greatest reputational loss among the conservative section of society, where the share of supporters of various conspiracy theories is quite high.
The full version of the text is available in English and Russian online.